Letting go of the kid so that we can both grow up

betty ming liu Art, Food, Inspiration, Relationships 13 Comments

How did this all happen so fast? My daughter Gabi has only a few days left of high school. Then we’re into prom season, summer goodbyes and then…packing my only child off to college. After that, we are each on to totally new lives.

This is one of the moments I’ve been working towards since the day she was born. There’s great joy and relief in knowing that she is going forward as a beautiful, smart, compassionate young woman. Gabi is about to explore her potential! Which leaves me on a new journey on the home front. This is also exciting for me but…can I admit that the prospect is a bit scary?

To make sure I really miss her, the girl really outdid herself for Mother’s Day. She started off the morning by giving me a gorgeous bouquet. Next came the tasty toasted, buttered bagel that was worth a break from my gluten-free regimen and had our dog Rosebud begging for a bite. Then there was the gorgeous Papyrus card with paper cut-outs of gladiolus flowers shaped into a sexy, high-heeled shoe (we share a fondness for flamboyant footwear!). Her handwritten message made me cry (she also happens to be a very, very expressive writer).

After that, Gabs said we could do whatever I wanted. So she drove us about half an hour north to  the Katonah Museum of Art, a tiny gem of an organization that I just joined as an artist member. We were there to check out a marvelous exhibition, “Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Evolution.”  Loved it!

Quilts have a special meaning for me, for us. I started machine quilting just before Gabi was born. They were my first explorations of color, before I knew I was a painter. Over the years, I’ve made these one-of-a-kind blankets in all sizes for my loved ones, from little blankies for swaddling infants to king size spreads.

Here’s a quilt I made for Gabi when she was still a kid. Most of the squares are scraps from things I had previously sewn for her….the Halloween witch costume, baby blankets, baby dresses and pillows.

Too bad, I should’ve photographed more of my quilts. But here are a few:

When Gabi was younger, she and I even went on mother-and-daughter quilting workshops with another mom and little girl who were both our good friends. Quilts represent the piecing together of moments of my life. The process infuses my art and my personal philosophy. (Someday, I’ll do a proper post about this, with more photos.)

After the museum, we stopped by Gabi’s dad’s place so that she could give a pretty bouquet to her stepmom and say hi to her two stepsisters. Then my 18-year-old driver took us back home to Hastings-on-Hudson for a delicious brunch at Juniper.

This neighborhood favorite is one of those farm-to-table restaurants where the menu constantly changes depending on what’s in season locally. We shared a mushroom soup. I had a great scallop salad. Gabi’s grilled cheese sandwich was out of this world (instead of cheddar, it was made with melted fontina and taleggio; rapturously sinful).

After lunch, Mommy Cinderella turned back into a pumpkin. Gabi dropped me off at home while she drove off to help her BFF with prom-related stuff. The kid lasted four whole hours solitary with me. Not bad at all.

Now, the letting go process continues. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We both know she MUST go away for college to have her own life, away from Mommy’s constant hovering. It will give both of us space to reconfigure a new relationship.

And it’s time to do that….

Here’s an example of how the conversation could change: Over lunch, Gabi told me about a concert that she’ll be attending soon. She showed me the event website and explained  the music. My response was to ask her when she would have time for lunch, would she be eating enough that day. Groan!

Well. I feel better after sharing this post. Thank goodness, I also have my neighborhood moms to turn to. We spend a fair amount of time worrying together about the kids going to college — not about their issues but ours. “Are you going to be okay?” “Are you ready for this?” That’s what we constantly ask each other.

This whole experience is also new for me because I never went away to college. Lived at home right through grad school. What did you expect? I had old-fashioned tiger parents who wanted to keep me close for all the wrong reasons. My history makes me super-determined to make sure that Gabi has the space to find her own happiness.

I will find new happiness too, I’m sure of it — but only if I can let go. Can I develop a new routine not based on taking care of a child? Will I succeed in assuming a new full-time role as entrepreneur? Can I let down my guard long enough to let new relationships into my life? Shall we pause now for me to release a loud, long, anxiety-filled scream?

So. If you’ve been through this as a parent, child or another interesting capacity, please do share your advice and observations in the comments below. It would help build a solid foundation for those of us who want to do right by our kids and ourselves. xo


Comments 13

  1. Having no kids myself, I have no advice, but loved this post and am confident you will both do fabulously! Can’t wait to read that quilting post :)

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      Betsy, the first person to post is always brave. Thank you for starting the conversation! Now, you might actually have a lot to contribute. Things you’ve seen others do with their kids. Or, did you go away to college yourself? Was there stuff that went on between you and your parents as your reached adulthood? I’m interested in all that stuff.

      And yes, I will start photographing some of the things I have for a quilting post. Soon. Thanks for the encouragement. Btw, quilt lovers, take note: The Katonah Museum is selling a $20 catalogue of the quilt exhibition. I bought a copy. Did you ever think of quilts cut out like lace? Or as a diorama? Or as a version of painting or photography? What about a man quilt? All of that, on display and presented in the book. :)

  2. First, I want to tell you how beautiful your quilts are! What a wonderful history you have with making quilts. You are talented beyond words.
    Second, what a treasure of a daughter to actually spend time planning out Mother’s Day for you with the card/breakfast/lunch/museum and continued to her stepmom’s to share the love. You raised up a very caring person.
    All the more harder to let her go. She will flourish the day she lands on campus, not look back at all, while Mom will go through a ‘mourning’ period. Very hard to go through but when you come out of it, you will be in a different place in your life and know yourself like you never did before. Can’t even begin to tell you the emotions and there’s no way to anticipate it. Just have lots of supporting friends around you and sleepovers because every time you pass Gabby’s room and hear no stir, you will feel the pang of longing for your child. Some mothers didn’t have it so bad but it hit me really, really hard. If you are to be in that place, call me.

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      Oh, Diana, The Kid’s Empty Bedroom Syndrome! That’s gonna hurt. Thanks for being on stand-by to scrape me off the floor. Might be worse than what I’m dealing with now: The Kid’s Always-Closed Door Syndrome. But on the bright side, friends who have been through this assure that there are many new pleasures. A clean, tidy house. No pressures to cook or run errands. No worrying over things that you’re not looking at. ;)

  3. Yes, it took a while before I wanted to feel the ‘good side’ of being an empty-nester. Relish every minute with her now but don’t show it. It is about “me” more than about them. We are forced to change our entire focus on living the day-to-day and find new purposes and activities. Like I said, when you come out of the sadness, you’ll be in a different place and hopefully, have grown to embrace another chapter of life and move forward. Don’t we hate not having control over this episode of life!

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  5. Hi Betty,

    I was the first woman in my family to leave the Bay Area for college. I knew that Southern California was the place for me and despite my mother’s fears and hesitations, she didn’t stop me. (She also didn’t stop me when I moved back five years later to stay another five years.) I’m sure that it wasn’t easy either time, but among all the other selfless, loving things she has done for me (support me through grad school, unemployment as a writer, breakups with the same bf), her letting me go was the BEST thing she could have ever done. As cliche as it sounds I needed time away from my family, away from the noise and chatter to really find myself. I came back a better person. Her decision to let me go was the same as yours – the chance wasn’t given to her. At twenty six, my maternal Chinese grandparents wanted her to get married because she was getting “old.”

    I’m not a mother (yet), but I truly believe that the best gifts a parent can give a child are love and support. Even you don’t agree with the decision, let your child make mistakes, learn from them and comfort her when she is hurting. I’ve done a LOT of crazy things that my mother did not understand or approve of, but she didn’t always interfere. There were many years when I kept my distance as I was nursing my first heartache, but ultimately her letting me be allowed me to come back to her when I was safe and ready (same when I moved away both times). It will hurt. You will cry and so will your daughter, but your relationship will evolve into something even more beautiful. Letting go is never easy, but as your title states it has to be done for the both of you to grow.

    Thinking of you both and sending you lots of love.

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      Christie! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I really think it’s so important for young people to get that space away from their parents. Those of you who are able to do it are very, very fortunate. This is a privilege that’s going to get harder and harder for kids to have. The economy is just so awful. Living at home is now, more than ever, a practical solution. But at some point, the kids need to break away on their own. Much love back to you too! xo.

  6. I felt fairly devastated when the kids went away to school and/or moved out. I tried to hide this but felt pretty sure that was the end of them living with their dad and I. But two surprising things happened.
    I actually eventually liked having space to develop my interests and to eat the type of foods I wanted, to have space to reconnect with my partner and with friends, etc. Both kids have come back for months at a time between jobs and partners so don’t assume (especially in these economic times) that she’s gone foreever.
    It IS a HUGE adjustment, but it has benefits as well as the bitter sweet stuff.

  7. We’re living in a parralel universe! My oldest daughter who is graduating in June and enrolled in college for the fall just heard from her host mother in Taiwn yesterday. It’s official, Molly’s spending a gap year in the Rotary Overseas Exchange Program. I had reconciled my feelings about her going off to college 200 miles from from home, but now I have to adjust to her being 8,000 miles form home for ten months. I’ve consiously worked at raising independent young women, and if I’ve done my job right, we’ll both be fine. I’m going to start taking onetoone lessons to learn how to use the IMAC I bought last year (so I can face chat with Molly). And I’m looking forward to my younger daughter being an “only” for a while. I may even get to the Katonah Museum to see the quilt show – I was a quilter before I adopted my girls.

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      Chinamomx2, oh my goodness. We REALLY are leading parallel lives! Your oldest daughter’s immersion program sounds great. I’m jealous — bet if I had done that while young, my Chinese would be really good now. Brilliant solution to a gap year! And the year with just your little one will surely be special for you both. Enjoy your One-to-One lessons; they changed my life. And if you get to the Katonah Museum, would love to hear your reaction to the exhibition. I still find myself thinking about it….nothing like the impact of good art to inspire the subconscious!

  8. Hy Betty,

    I remember that quilt in Gabi’s room! And I remember that cool hand-painted furniture with all the pretty colors! Ali and Mel were jealous I couldn’t paint! You have done a wonderful job with Gabi, and Gabi has worked hard! You should both be very proud. And by the way, as a parent about to watch her first (Matt) graduate from college this weekend (BTW, he made us reservations for a celebratory dinner in the restaurant he works in, but neglected to tell us, he’ll be working in the kitchen!) I can tell you you are about to enter a new chapter, but it ain’t over till it’s over — and it ain’t over yet! xxoo to you both

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